Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Fame and the lack of it

Ever since my new book arrived in Boulder...

the girls have been asking 'Sue, are you famous?' and I've been saying 'No,' and they've been saying 'Why aren't you famous? You write books. J.K.Rowling writes books and she's famous, why aren't you?'

Ah me. How to explain.

Yesterday on Facetime they told me they'd asked Alexa 'Who is Sue Hepworth?' and Alexa knew. They showed me by asking again when I was within earshot of their Alexa.

Alexa said: 'Sue Hepworth is an author of at least five books. Her most popular books are Plotting for Beginners, But I Told You Last Year That I Loved You, and Even When They Know You.'

'So you ARE famous!' they said.

I don't care about being famous, I really don't. I just want people to read my books. 

And unfortunately I'm finding that it was easier to sell my novels than it is to sell DAYS ARE WHERE WE LIVE, and yet I actually think it's one of the best. 

I don't think it's selling yet because it falls in the category of memoir, and no-one buys memoir unless they have heard of the author, or unless it's been recommended by a friend, or by a mainstream media review.

You know what I'm going to ask you, now, don't you?

I know a lot of you have bought DAYS ARE WHERE WE LIVE, and I recognise a couple of the names on the Amazon reviews as blog readers' names. And one or two friends have told me they are reading the book slowly because they don't want to finish it: they are enjoying it so much. Also, it is a book that lends itself to being read a few pages at a time.

I always ask you to review my books on Amazon and/or Goodreads, and I'd like to say thank you again to those of you who do. 

Please will you review DAYS ARE WHERE WE LIVE as well, as soon as possible?
and perhaps you'd be good enough to mention it on Facebook, or Twitter? And tell your friends? 

The latest review on Amazon says 'Just the thing for Lockdown reading.' That's what I hoped when I rushed it out.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

A little hello

Hello. How are you doing? I hope you're OK.

I'm sorry for the lack of posts: I ran out of puff. A dear friend died of cancer at the weekend and it was suddenly all too much.

This morning, to cheer me up, Dave agreed to come for an early morning walk by the river. Walking is not really his thing. Cycling, or nantling in the shed, or basking in the sunshine are more his cup of tea. 

The walk was lovely. I find walking by the river under the trees, listening to birdsong, very calming.

This viaduct carries the Monsal Trail:

There's a flight of steep steps to the left that takes you from the river path up to the Trail.

We saw a heron standing on a rock, preening itself:

'They're a lot more picturesque when they're not picking at themsleves, aren't they?' I said to Dave.

'So are people.'

Walking with Dave is a different experience from walking with Liz. 

With Liz (a latter day Fotherington-Thomas) it's 'Oh, look! A red kite!' or 'Isn't it lovely where the sunlight breaks through the trees and lights up those ferns!'

With Dave it's 'I'd like a bit of blue plastic pipe like that,' or 'This galvanised wire netting is a good non-slip surface, we should have some on our stairs instead of carpet.'

It was still very nice. He's a sweetie. And we didn't just talk about building stuff, we talked about Philip Larkin, too. He's a bit of a polymath. Did you know? 

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Snapping out of it

I was in a bad temper on Tuesday, frustrated at not being able to go more places and see more people, and poor Dave bore the brunt of it. It was just one of those lockdown moods that sweep in for the day. The last lockdown mood had been sadness at not knowing when, or even if, I'd see my American family again. I rang Liz midday and came out with a stream of moans, including 'I'm fed up with the samey-sameyness!' and then I remembered the very sore spot on her chest.

'How's your wound?' I said.

'My womb? Well if you're really that bored we can talk about my womb,' she said, and we cackled down the phone at each other.

'Your wound! Your wound!'

Perhaps the joke does not translate to the written blog...

She told me about a woodland walk she'd had in the early morning and I said 'I want to go!' so she kindly took me on Wednesday.

Since the easing of the lockdown, every sunny day in the Peak District is like an August Bank Holiday, so we met at 8 a.m. to beat the crowds for our walk, two metres apart from each other. 

Ten minutes into the walk I felt humbled and ashamed to think of my bad mood the day before when all these beautiful trees are just 7 miles away. I suppose there is no shame in feeling cross and fed up, it's what you do with the mood that matters: chewing up a kindly help-meet is not OK. Attacking weeds or cleaning the bedroom is probably the way to go.

Enough of the sermonising, here are the photographs:

We were above the early morning mist

The nine ladies stone circle

Me, doing a walking meditation round the stones

Liz and one of her favourite trees

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Lockdown miscellany

Everything depends on the individual human being, regardless of how small a number of like-minded people there is, and everything depends on each person, through action and not mere words, creatively making the meaning of life a reality in his or her own being.
Viktor Frankl

Monday's coffee stop...

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Beware of emojis

Do you use emojis? I've been slow on the uptake partly out of snootiness at the start, and partly because I was so late in getting a smart phone. According to my iPad, these are the ones I use most frequently:

Actually, the ones encircled are the ones I use most frequently. I do not use the middle row fourth from the left at all, and I only encountered the one with the blue arrow on Friday when Wendy told me people have been sending it to her for a year, and she was puzzled as to why they would send her an emoji of a man with a turban. Then someone explained it was a man with an exploding brain and it all made sense. 

The one with the green arrow has been a favourite of mine, expressing, I thought, surprise, amazement mild horror. Now, when it's enlarged, I see that  the person is blushing, so it probably means embarrassment. Oh dear. 😳

You have to be really careful with emojis. Early on, I sent an affectionate response to a family member on Twitter using a peach emoji, because I often say to people 'You're a peach!' She told me that a peach emoji means a bottom, and I was never to even think of using use an aubergine. OMG - the thing is fraught with difficulty.

I was asking Isaac and Wendy last Facetime, what was the emoji for a hug. Hugs are in short supply these days and I miss them. I'd seen a friend in the open air at a safe distance the other day, a friend who under normal non-pandemic times lives happily on her own and who was missing the lack of normal human touch, from friends, from her daughter and grandchildren. We both bemoaned the loss of hugs. And yesterday I saw someone else and I yearned to give her a hug because she plainly needed one. 

And so it was that I asked Isaac and Wendy what was the emoji for a hug. They sent me this:

which is what someone else on Twitter also told me meant a hug.

That is not a hug!

I always thought it meant JAZZ HANDS. Doesn't it look like jazz hands to you? How can it possibly be a hug? if it were a hug each hand would be pointing in the other direction. There is no way I am going to use that to mean hug. I voiced my objections to Isaac, the fount of all internet wisdom, and he sent me this:

Now that makes sense. But we need it now! Not in the second half of 2020! Not that I'll be seeing my chief suppliers of hugs - Lux and Cece - before next year, if then. But I'm not going down that very sad rabbit-hole.

Last bike ride I didn't go on the Trail as there are now too many people on there who plainly don't know or care what two metres looks like. I cycled up behind the village, a route I've neglected because of my love affair with the river. It was lovely and quiet and I took this shot of the village for you:

On the way back up our lane at the end of the ride I saw these guys (yes Pete, I know that at least one of them is female - guys is commonly used as a non-gendered term these days):

And that night I found this on the net - a review of my new book, DAYS ARE WHERE WE LIVE

which is the first review I've ever had which has been written before the person has finished the book. Isn't that great? I think for most people, this book is a slow read, which is why I haven't yet had many reviews.

Here's another recent one:

And here are two I had earlier on and have already shown you, and don't care if I have, because this is my blog and I can do what I like on it!

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Details of lockdown

Yesterday I wrote up my diary from the day before - May 12th - for the Mass Observation Archive.   I tried to put in as much trivial detail as possible, because when you're doing social research it's the details that are fascinating. I used to be social researcher and I'm telling you that generalisations are boring.  So rather than saying I got back into bed after going to the loo at 5 a.m. and listened to 'something on my iPad' I said I listened to a wonderful unabridged reading of The Railway Children because I love the book, and the reading is superb, and it helps me get back to sleep.

A year ago today I was on Mull with the Aging Hippie and we were visiting Calgary Bay. This morning’s header was a photo I took of a stone wall on Iona. that’s why the stone is pink and not grey like Derbyshire stone. I'm wondering when it will feel safe to travel again. Will I feel safe next spring to travel to Colorado to see the chundies?

They began reading the Harry Potter books as a family this spring and are currently on book number 4. Don't ask me what the title is - I am not a fan. Are you shocked? Please don't tell them because they are obsessed, and I don't want my stock to go down. Here they are in their Harry Potter glasses and Gryffindor ties:

Aren't they adorable? Thank God for Facetime.

Well, it was frosty on Monday night and the potatoes copped it:

The good news is that the two veg rows I sowed are sprouting so I now know which is which. Here are the cabbages. Aren't they dinky?

And yesterday I found another lovely spot on the river to have my morning coffee. I wish you could smell the wild garlic:

The last detail I want to share is this beautiful photo Liz sent me yesterday of her favourite tree. It leans over another river near here:

I hope you have some sunshine today - real or metaphorical. 

Monday, May 11, 2020

Different types of conversation

In the past on the blog - B.C. (before Covid) - I felt I could express how I felt on here, whether it was sad, elated, angry, fed up, inspired, amused, whatever. After considering it myself and raising it on the blog to see what readers thought, I had decided this was fine, because readers like an honest blogger, not one who pretends that everything is unrelentingly hunky dory.

Since the beginning of lockdown, though, I've had a policy of trying to stay cheerful on the blog. Have you noticed? I thought of it as my contribution. After all, I have a lot to be cheerful about. My family are all well as I write this, my friend is recovering from Covid, I have enough to eat, I have a garden, Dave is here, I can ride out on my bike to beautiful places, I have loads of things I like to do at home. 

But I haven't always been cheerful inside my head. On Saturday, for example I was cheesed off and moaned a lot to Dave, who pointed out several times that other people are also fed up. It didn't help. And on Sunday in my weekly, early morning phone chat with my brother in Belgium, I spewed out all my petty irritations about living in lockdown. 

Then I joined our silent Zoom Quaker Meeting and the after-meeting chat, and I felt uplifted.

Since then I've been thinking about the fact that no matter how you look at it, with or without a pandemic going on, I am fortunate. In normal times I am better off than the majority of people on the planet in material terms and living conditions. And yet I have thought it OK to tell you I'm fed up with snow, or missing my best friend who died, or not being able to find a publisher, or dentists wanting to talk to me when they are poking things in my mouth. 

I don't know where this is leading...except to ask: should I be honest on here, always, or should I continue with the cheerful policy?

Another place to express what I'm doing and how I feel about it is the Mass Observation Archive. They are asking us to send in a personal journal for tomorrow, Tuesday May 12th. The Mass Observation project has been running since May 1937. It is interested in the ordinary daily lives of people across the UK. You can find the details here.

One of the things I've been doing in lockdown is painting and drawing. I've shown you some of my stuff, the last being a pencil drawing of my shoe. When my talented artist brother saw this, he said it was good, but I should have set the shoe on something in the drawing, not had it hovering in space.

So on Saturday when I wanted to draw a toy boat, I sat outside in the Adirondack chair, placed the boat on the arm, and began to draw. This is the result:

I thought it might amuse you.

Another thing I've been doing is cycling and walking most days, and trying to have a flask of coffee at a different place by the river, every time. I showed you a video of such a morning coffee spot the other day. Here is Friday's:

And here is where I had it today. 

I hope you have a good week, friends. 
I hope your lockdown difficulties are as petty as mine. 

Friday, May 08, 2020

Veg talk

The other day Jenetta, lovely faithful blog reader, asked me in the comments section to say what was happening with my attempts to grow veg, hence this post. 

I take a lot of trouble with my flowers, but I have always been rather bored with the idea of growing veg, partly because it hardly seems worth growing it just for me.  Dave is a vegetarian, but he scorns vegetables. I am an omnivore who adores cabbage. But I am trying to grow a few things this year that can be harvested before September because I thought there'd be problems with supply.

When we first moved into this house in 1996 the garden was completely overgrown with brambles, convolvulus and nettles. The first year we grew potatoes, leeks and purple sprouting broccoli. Here is Dave in his Christopher Robin ensemble washing the potato crop:

You can see we were still developing the garden. We've changed it a couple of times since this picture was taken, though Dave's dress sense remains unreconstructed.

This year I am trying to grow lettuce, 

and dwarf beans and runner beans,

You can see how few have germinated.

I found some potatoes sprouting in the veg box/rack in the porch so I put them in the bottom of a barrel and a pot and have been topping them up with compost as they have grown. I have not protected them from frost, but they are doing well. Our garden is very exposed, btw.

I have sown a row of cabbages and a row of spring onions:

To the right of the rows you will see the raspberries that have not been weeded.

You will also notice that the rows have not been labelled. i got distracted when in the garden and have now forgotten which row is which. Time will tell.

Lastly, I bought three tomato plant seedlings online. They were 4 inches long from top to root tip when they arrived, and now they are 18 inches high and spend part of the day outside, being hardened off. I don't have a greenhouse, so they need to be hardy.

I love tomatoes and I am more interested in the fate of these plants than anything else (not counting the sweet peas.) It's so hard in normal times to find tomatoes to buy that actually have a flavour. English ones are the most reliable, but who knows if they'll be available this year? In any case I doubt I'll see any.  

Yesterday I cycled in a new direction and met this 2 day old fell pony (over the wall, at a safe distance):

His show name is Boutime Peaky Blinder but his friends and family call him Tommy.

Then I went on to sit by the river, for legit rest purposes during my daily exercise. I am trying to have my morning coffee as part of my bike ride and walk. This is from Wednesday:

Wishing all of you hope and stamina. And a blackbird within earshot.

Wednesday, May 06, 2020

Letter from lockdown

I have three further things to say about the carrot cake.

Firstly, the person for whom I made it (who is recovering very slowly from Covid19) thinks it's yummy.

Secondly, I agree that on the third day it's delicious and it might even supplant my own recipe. I just need to ditch the baking soda.

Thirdly, although my sisters had no problem with the idea of my using mascarpone that was 8 years past it's sell by date when I hawked it out of the freezer, a younger member of the family read my blog post and responded thus:

Such a person did not have outside earth closets at their village primary school, and did not have no bathroom, no hot water and a loo at the bottom of the garden when they first got married. More importantly, they weren't brought up by my mother.

Anyway....I did not use the fossilised mascarpone, so we can all rest easy, and you can be assured that this was the oldest foodstuff in the house by 7 years, so if you ever come here, you won't need to worry about food poisoning.

The exciting news this morning is that Zoë has made us two stylish and, more importantly, two very effective masks, for when the over 70s are allowed out in public:

And now to gardening...My potato plants were looking perky and robust yesterday afternoon when I watered them and piled on more compost, but we have woken up to frost and I have not yet ventured out to see if they have survived. 

This is the first time in twenty years I've tried vegetable gardening, and this kind of thing - the need to listen to the weather forecast and take appropriate action - is one of the reasons why. It's tedious. The only worthy reason for checking the weather, to my mind, is to see if it's worth doing the washing (so I can hang it out) or to check when the best time is to fit in a bike ride. I can't be doing with namby pamby plants. Yes, I harden off my sweet peas, but once they're hardened off that's it. They're on their own. 

The next thing I'll have to consider is the slugs eating my lettuce, as if I didn't already have my cosmos seedlings to worry about.

Enough of these horticultural ramblings...there are books to be read. I've just started Anna Karenina. The last time I read it I was breast feeding Zoë. Decades ago. I am so old.

Here's a photo from Monday's bike ride and walk:

Monday, May 04, 2020

The saga of the carrot cake

I am no longer enamoured of cooking, but I still like to bake, and on Sunday I decided I wanted to make a carrot cake for a friend who is recovering from a nasty bout of Covid19. 

So I looked in my ancient recipe box for my carrot cake recipe. My big sister gave me this recipe box when I was first married, 50 years ago, 

and it survived the fire because I didn't send it into storage. 

Inside the lid it says this:

Many of the index cards in the box are recycled ones from the time in my life when I was working on this book:

(OMG) which means they have things like this written on the back:

What a hoot.

However, I could not find the recipe. I had all the cards out and threw away some rubbish, but kept various dubious items, in this case below because my mother wrote it:

And this, below, because Zoë wrote it as a child before she became a vegetarian, and it reminds me of the era when she and Isaac were young:

I do not recall actually making the bacon roll.

I've kept this one below because Mary was going to give me the recipe. You can see it is ludicrously incomplete - I don't know why. At the time, I liked cooking and she didn't, and I remember she and John making this one evening for guests who were coming and I called round to see her and insisted she witness my will, NOW! because I couldn't wait, because that's the kind of person I am, and she was really annoyed with me. And now - more than 25 years later, it's morphed into a happy memory.

Who me? Sentimental? 

The point is, though, that I could not find the recipe I was looking for - a terrific carrot cake recipe unlike any I have seen anywhere else. I didn't look for it in my hand written recipe book which I got a few years ago, because I could see the recipe in my mind's eye on a card (though obvs not in useful detail). 

So I texted Zoë, and she emailed me her friend's recipe that she said is the most amazing carrot cake she's ever tasted. I doubted this, because mine is the best. 

Anyway, I made the cake and tasted the raw mixture from the bowl, which tasted disgusting, because of the baking soda, I hoped. All mixtures with baking soda in taste horrid, don't they?

The cake looked fine when it came out of the oven, but as I only ever intended to give half the massive cake to my friend (because of her tiny post-virus appetite) I cut a sliver and tasted it. It was still warm. I was dubious. There was still that baking soda taint.

So I thought I might make another one, and I asked Dave to go through the recipe box for me and to see if he could find it. This was a vain hope, because he is lousy at finding things, but the fact that I asked him is a measure of my desperation. He couldn't find it, but he said 'Have you looked in that book that you write recipes in?' 

'No,' I said. 'It's not there, because I haven't made it since I got that book.'

'Look anyway,' he said.

So I did. And it was the first recipe in the book. I must have written it out and then thrown the card away.

This morning I woke up and cut a tiny bit of the cake and it tasted fine. Not as nice as my recipe, but good enough. 

The recipe said 'ice with cream cheese, icing sugar and almond essence,' but I had no cream cheese and no hope of getting any. There was a tub of mascarpone in the depths of the freezer with a best before date of 2012.  I opened it. Hmm.

It smelled fine.

I rang my little sister - a talented cook - and she said 'Sure! If it smells OK, it is OK. Use icing sugar and grated orange rind but not orange juice.'

I asked on Twitter. One person said - 'Yes, use it.'

I texted my friend, Het:

Dave agreed with Het but I thought they were being namby-pamby.

So I sieved in icing sugar and added finely grated orange rind and as it tasted of nothing, I added orange juice.

It was far too sloppy, so I rang my sister. She said 'I told you not to add juice!'

'Well, I have no memory these days,' I said. 'If I don't write it down, I forget.'

'You'll have to give it separately, as a sauce.'

'I can't do that. I want to put it on the cake and package it up and leave it on her doorstep.'

'Well, use butter and icing sugar and the grated rind of an orange.'

I did that. It looks fine. It tastes good, too.

I just updated Dave on the state of play, and he was relieved: he had been horrified at the idea of my using the ancient mascarpone.

'But it was fine. It didn't smell of anything!' I said. 

'Neither does death, but it's quite important.'